Altitude above you. Runway behind you. A tenth of a second ago. If you’ve ever wondered, those are the three most useless things to a pilot.
On January 15th, Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles - the pilot and copilot of US Airways Flight 1549 were 90 seconds out of LaGuardia.
They were just into their climb to altitude. Their runway was far behind them and,a tenth of a second ago, they hadn’t encountered a flock of birds.
“Tick” (there was no time for “tock”) and everything in their world changed.
At about 250 miles per hour and at approximately 3200 feet, they heard several loud thumps and, then, both engines went quiet.
At that point, their situation was about as follows: They were over a major metropolitan area with (a) no power; (b) an aircraft whose glide ratio (see: brick with wings) wasn’t cause for rejoicing; and (c) the knowledge that they were too low and too slow to make it to any runway in the area.
We all know the rest of the story. Captain Sullenberger took control of the airliner while First Officer Skiles began running through all of the emergency engine-out procedures. Captain Sullenberger made an almost instantaneous decision to put his bird down on the Hudson River and then proceeded to do so.
Security camera films of the landing show the airliner in a perfect tail low, wings level attitude allowing the plane to settle onto the water in such a way as to keep it in one piece.
Everyone onboard survived thanks to an outstanding piece of airmanship, the efforts and training of the entire flight crew, and the quick response of those involved in the water rescue.
The story is a great read from start to finish, but I want to add something else here. Something to think about.
These days, we see a lot of bad things and truly sorry individuals in the news.
This tends to make us forget that there are remarkable people everywhere amongst us.
They’re the ones who didn’t attend the “when in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout” school of situational response. They don’t come unglued in ugly situations and, if asked how or why they handled things so calmly, their response is usually along the lines of “someone needed to do it” or “it was their job” and they were simply the ones who were there.
They’re the passerby who will rush to a burning car to pull an injured passenger out or the sunbather on a beach who will swim out to someone struggling in the water.
At work, they’re the nurse who walks into a room where a patient has “crashed” and begins calmly but firmly taking steps to bring that individual back from the edge.
They’re the firefighter who sees that things are getting out of hand and begins attacking the fire as if it’s a personal enemy.
They’re the surgeon performing a tough procedure that’s headed south who calmly pulls everything together to keep the patient alive.
They’re the line supervisor in a factory who sees something that’s not quite right and stops everything before anyone gets hurt.
They’re the “sheepdogs” (as I’ve heard it put) of our race. The ones who will step in to hold the line when everything seems to be crumbling.
They’re the ones who took the extra course because they thought they might need what they could learn from it. The ones who will read one more chapter, run one more scenario, or perform one more inspection.
They’re the ones who are constantly asking themselves “What if this happens?” and then think through what they might do when it does.
One reason for our not noticing them beforehand is the fact that they’re also the quiet ones. The ones who never call attention to themselves. In fact, they hate being the center of attention.
No, the Chesley Sullenbergers and Jeffrey Skiles out there are the ones who, after pulling off some incredible feat, will try to duck the limelight and to whom, after it’s all over, a quiet word of thanks or a firm handshake is ample payment.
They’re our true heroes. The ones we should point to.
There are a lot more of them out there than we know.
And we should thank God for that very simple fact.